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What Is Political Theology?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 23, 2024
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Political theology is a branch of political philosophy and theology that examines the juxtaposition of faith and politics. Although it is most associated with the work of German theologian Johann Baptist Metz, the discussion of ethics and morality within society can be traced to Greek philosophers, Plato and Panaetius. Plato's tripartite theory of soul links three parts of the soul to the organization of society into three classes. Panaetius and Greek historian Polybius defined political theology as a type of theology that serves the interest of politicians and acts as a guide for a specific political order or social organization.

Throughout history, thinkers and theologians have continued to compare, contrast, and question the relationship and compatibility between theology and political legitimacy. Responses to this question and exploration of this relationship have become the cornerstone of modern political theology. This debate has not only been covered by Christian theologians, but by thinkers such as Nicolai Machiavelli, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Erik Peterson, and Carl Schmitt, the German theorist famous for his unapologetic support of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Printed in 1922, Schmitt's Political Theology revealed his theory of sovereignty, and he remains one of the most controversial modern political philosophers. Schmitt differs significantly from other political theologians because his ideas do not include a discussion of morality and ethics. Instead, he argues that the state exists with integrity but must promote and enforce order within society during times of crisis. This view became the justification for Nazi Germany and Hitler's purging of his political opponents.

The writings and philosophy of German theologian Johann Baptist Metz hold the strongest association with concept of political theology. Metz's views are heavily tied to Marxist/Socialist thought and are rooted in the belief that God is suffering in the midst of his creation. Moreover, suffering must exist to remind people of the historical suffering. Similar to Marx, Metz labels proletariat and bourgeois classes within Christianity while offering a critique of bourgeois Christianity in the same way that Marxism/Socialism critiques the bourgeoisie of capitalist societies.

Metz's political theology teaches that Christianity becomes less credible because of its bourgeoisie element. Bourgeois members of the church are held in high regard because of their status and orthodoxy, or customs and beliefs. Metz promotes that because religion, ethics, and politics are intertwined, the true cornerstone of Christianity must be orthopraxy. Orthopraxy concentrates on just or ethical actions and conduct that is specifically focused on social, cultural, economic, and political discourses.

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